Thursday, 30 April 2015

Live Below the Line - food for the final day

As I brace myself for the last day of Live Below the Line, feeding myself on £1 a day for 5 days, here's the food I have left.

Food remaining for the last day of Live Below the Line

Basically, as long as I like eating marmalade, rice and frozen vegetables, I should be fine.

Within the sea of beige, the food remaining is (from the top, left to right):

- Bit of juice from the tinned pineapple
- 70g tinned pineapple
- Loads of marmalade
- 60g oats

- 4 slices of bread
- 120g mixed frozen veg
- loads of rice, about 700g

- Remaining portion of the kidney bean and sweetcorn chilli from Day 1
- 50g frozen carrots

- Bit of natural yogurt
- About 150ml milk, frozen into cubes
- 3 oat flatbread balls, ready to be rolled out and cooked

- 1 egg
- Remaining portion of oat pancake batter from Day 4
- 80g tinned tomatoes
- Weird pineapple toffee from the bottom of the saucepan when caramelising pineapple juice
- 3 chicken stock cubes
- Scrapings of labne, the yogurt cream cheese from Day 1

Suggestions for how to combine the above on the final day gratefully received!

I've been doing Live Below the Line, feeding myself on £1 a day for 5 days, to support UNICEF. 
Anything you can donate to UNICEF's work keeping children worldwide protected, fed and healthy, including their current campaign after the Nepal earthquake, will make a real difference. 
This is the link to my fundraising page:

Live Below the Line Day 4 – egg worries, forgetfulness and moral dilemmas about toast

I spent the early hours of my fourth day on Live Below the Line lying awake, worrying about an egg.

Ridiculous, I know.

I’d made a meal plan to stretch £5 of food over 5 days (here), but now I was worried that a sliver of cream cheese and an egg on Day 4 wouldn’t be enough protein to stave off gnawing hunger pangs, compared to the immensity of two eggs and 100g kidney beans on Day 5.

It felt like one of those plastic puzzles with the grid of squares. If you move one piece to fill a gap, you have to move another to fill the new gap, then another.

If I ate an extra egg on Day 4, what could I eat instead of an omelette the next day? Did I have enough bread for an egg sandwich? Could I make a form of tomato ketchup with the tiny bit of tinned tomatoes left, so the sandwich wouldn’t be so dry? But then, did that mean I wouldn’t be able to make any soup with the tomatoes?  Round and round, pushing tiny squares of food into different patterns.

A restless night. Yet another reason to be grateful that normally I would sleep soundly with enough food to feed my family in the fridge downstairs.

Breakfast – Oat pancakes with yogurt, pineapple and pineapple syrup, 14p

Won't be faffing around with pineapple syrup again any time soon. 
In the end I threw caution to the wind, and used the extra egg.

Fed up with porridge, I decided to make pancakes using oats, inspired by Ceri at Natural Kitchen Adventures' cinnamon oat pancakes on Live Below the Line last year here and the barley pancakes by A Girl Called Jack this year here.  

I took a punt on grinding up 75g of porridge oats into flour. 

Oats before...
...oat flour afterwards.

I added a beaten egg and 100ml of skimmed milk, which gradually soaked into the oat flour making it less liquid, then fried dollops in a non-stick pan. 

Oat pancakes. In a frying pan. 
Pancake mix before the oat flour soaked up the milk

Half the mix made three smallish pancakes, so I saved the rest for another day.

Meanwhile I tried to make some kind of syrup by heating up half the juice from the tin of pineapple, so it would reduce and become sticky.

Oops. Pineapple juice toffee, rather than slightly reduced syrup.
I ate the pancakes with 20g of the remaining natural yogurt, 20g of the tinned pineapple, and some syrup caught just as it caramelised.

It tasted really good, nice sweetness balanced with oats, and better than pancakes I normally make with white wheat flour. Many cheers.

However, the amount of washing up was horrendous compared to a bowl, spoon and measuring jug for porridge, so don’t think it’ll become an everyday experience.

Thicker pancake mix and a ton of washing up.

Lunch – Carrot & ginger soup with a couple of oat flatbreads and yogurt cream cheese, 27p

You remember that carrot & ginger soup I made on Day 1?
And froze a portion for later, to make sure it wouldn’t go off (a particular horror when living on so little food)?
And then forgot to defrost on the day when I planned to eat it for lunch?
Unsurprisingly, shouting “Hurry up I’m hungry” at the saucepan did not make the carrot soup defrost any faster.
Frozen soup. In a pan.
I did however manage to get a couple of oat flatbread balls out of the fridge in the morning, so they’d be room temperature by lunch time. They were less sticky now, and I managed to roll them out between two sheets of greaseproof paper before cooking them in a frying pan and spreading them with almost all the remaining yogurt cream cheese.

I added a spoonful of yogurt to the soup, and arranged the bowl and flatbreads very carefully on a plate ready for a photograph, then wandered off to do something else, and ended up wolfing it all down before I remembered to take a photo.

But the soup looked remarkably similar to the version on Day 1, and the flatbreads pretty identical to this one on Day 2.

Stand in soup
Stunt flatbread

Snack – Toast and marmalade, 7p not 4p

Unfortunately cutting the toast in squares did not make it last longer.
Live Below the Line nearly became a source of marital disharmony today.

I’d put a piece of bread in the toaster to make a snack, then wandered off to do something else, and later (much later, to be fair) discovered my husband tucking into my piece of abandoned toast. Topped with salami, no less.

Only on LBTL would it become a moral dilemma about whether it was OK to substitute one of our normal pieces of bread for the missing piece of cheap LBTL budgeted bread.

In the end I decided that anyone genuinely living on a minimal budget wouldn’t have spare bread lying around the place, and if someone else ate their food, they’d just go hungry.

So I included the cost of the missing slice in my budget, and made another piece of toast and marmalade for me. It tasted great. Morrisons M Savers marmalade – I recommend it. Bargain at 25p.

Dinner – Sweet and sour egg fried rice, 30p

Sweet and sour egg-fried rice from a strange angle.
As a spin on Day 2’s egg fried rice, I chucked in 30g of tinned pineapple and a couple of spoonfuls of the juice from the pineapple tin, along with 75g dry white rice, 120g frozen veg, the last teeny bit of root ginger, some stock cube and an egg.

I was hungry, it was fine.

Snack – Toast and marmalade, 4p

Toast. As eaten by me, and not my husband.
I spent part of today working out what I had left for the final day of Live Below the Line, so knew I had enough to snaffle an extra piece of toast and marmalade before bed.


Perhaps it’s the minimal food that’s making me quite so distracted and forgetful today. Today I spent 82p on three meals and two snacks.

The multitude of tiny decisions - can I eat this? Do I have enough? Should I check what’s left? – is tiring. Simultaneously the very lack of choice  - repeating meals, always limited to the cheapest options, having to plan ahead or go hungry because you can’t afford to buy extra food when out – is frustrating.

In the artificial world of Live Below the Line, I’m also simultaneously cooking normally for my children and husband. It’s hardly extravagant food, things like bacon quiche and macaroni cheese, but it’s strange not to be sharing it with them. I miss the convivial nature of eating together, and tried to cook my pancakes this morning before the children came downstairs, so they wouldn’t claim a share of the limited rations. Nor can I afford sociable cups of coffee in a local cafe while on Live Below the Line. 

Live Below the Line does not – cannot – attempt to replicate the reality of living in poverty. But it can give some glimpses into the soul-destroying struggle for so many to provide food for their families.

I'm doing Live Below the Line to raise money for UNICEF, and their work to keep children worldwide protected, fed and healthy, including the current campaign following the earthquake in Nepal. 
If you can spare it, even a pound makes a difference to families living in extreme poverty. 
This is the link to my fundraising page:

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Live Below the Line Day 3 - counting, counting

Day 3 on Live Below the Line, and my motivation was flagging, although I’m get much more used to drinking endless iced water.

Breakfast – Porridge with pineapple, 13p

More porridge. But this time with pineapple.
This morning it was time to unleash some of the tinned pineapple on top of my morning porridge.
Normally I’d add banana, but I’d already finished the single banana I could cram into the £5 shopping list.

Lunch – Scrambled eggs on toast, 27p

Two pieces of bread! Two scrambled eggs! The luxury.
Quick and easy lunch today, scrambling two eggs in a non stick pan and plonking them on top of a couple of slices of toast.
No butter to cook with or spread on the toast so it was a tad dry but after a long morning it tasted delicious.

Snack – Marmalade on toast, 4p

Marmalade on toast: the return
I really wanted a couple of slices of toast, but after counting and recounting the slices left in the freezer I decided to stick to one, concerned about running out of food for the next couple of days.
Instead I searched through the bag for a crust, as it seemed larger.

Snack – Yogurt and pineapple, 10p

Oooooh get me and my moody lighting. 
Same snack as yesterday, but with slightly less pineapple, trying to stretch the quantities over the remaining days.

Dinner – Pea and cheese risotto, 21p

Reasonable sized portion, enormous bowl.
I like risotto, and I’ve always included a budget version when doing Live Below the Line.
This minimalist version had only four ingredients: 75g value rice, 1 value stock cube, 120g frozen peas and the smallest piece of cheese known to man (5g). So small in fact that it wouldn’t register on the Morrison’s scales when the lady at the deli counter tried to weigh it, and she had to guess at a 5p price.  

Smallest piece of cheese visible to the naked eye
Anyway, I was worried whether the risotto would fill me up, because of the limited protein, but didn’t want to add an extra stodgefest of rice in case it drowned the limited peas and cheese.
I chucked the rice in one pan, kept about 400ml stock simmering in another pan, added a ladleful of stock at a time and kept stirring until the stock was absorbed. After about 10 minutes I added the frozen peas and carried on adding stock and stirring for another 3 minutes or so.
While the rice and peas were cooking I grated the tiny bit of cheese, determined to make it stretch as far as humanly possible, and stirred the cheese through right at the end when the rice was cooked.

In the end the risotto tasted good. It would have tasted even better with butter, onion, white wine and an accompanying green salad, but it was a satisfying end to the day.


It’s been harder on Day 3 than the previous days. Despite three meals and two snacks for 75p I’ve been feeling hungrier, wanting to eat more food, and starting to notice the repetition and the lack of choice.

I really wanted something quick and easy to eat when I got back from shipping children round school, football and Brownies.  I was concerned there wasn’t enough bread, didn’t want to start cooking oat flatbreads and ended up downing another glass of iced water. Good for weight loss perhaps, but another small heart-sinking moment faced with limited food.

I also found I’d started counting stuff - how many slices of bread left? If I eat an extra one today, will there be enough for tomorrow? How much pineapple is there in the fridge – can I eat more, or will that not leave anything for the next two days? Will I need both eggs for an omelette, or can I eat one tomorrow when I haven’t planned for much protein? Can I stretch the frozen veg to make more soup, will I be hungry if I have a smaller portion with that meal, and use less there too?

In the artificial environment of Live Below the Line I only have to stretch the food for five days, so I can plan on that basis and use up all I have.

If eating on £1 a day stretched off into the future, I fear I’d be much hungrier, always trying to spin out the food I had to last longer. A sobering thought.

Everyone has their own causes and charities, but if you could spare anything to donate to UNICEF, it would support their work to keep children worldwide protected, fed and healthy.
It would also support me immensely in my efforts to feed myself of £1 a day for 5 days, as I grit my teeth ready to start Day 4.

This is the link to my fundraising page:

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Live Below the Line Day 2 - attempts at oat flatbreads

The start of Day 2 on Live Below the Line was remarkably similar to Day 1.
Attempt to switch on the kettle, remember I couldn't afford any tea bags.
Eat porridge with the other half a banana, because even if I didn't feel like banana, I couldn't afford to risk it going off.
Trust me, it really is a different photo from Day 1

BREAKFAST – Porridge with banana, 13p
On the bright side I topped up the porridge with some extra water, and it tasted distinctly better than yesterday's, despite only including half of one of the smallest bananas known to man.

LUNCH – Pea soup, oat flatbreads with cream cheese, 24p

Pea soup with one experimental flatbread...
...followed quickly by another

After the success of the carrot soup, I raided the bag of frozen vegetables again in an attempt to make pea soup.

With no onion left, all I could do was boil up 100g of frozen peas with a value stock cube. Normally I’d thicken soup by adding potato, but with no money for potatoes I chucked in some of last night’s leftover rice. This worked so well that by the end of 15 minutes I had to dilute it with extra water.
Another go with the stick blender, a dollop of yogurt for the photo opportunity, and I had something that looked remarkably like soup and tasted pretty good too.

I was looking forward to more of the yogurt cream cheese but decided to go out on a limb and attempt oat flatbreads rather than a trusty piece of toast. Ceri over at Natural Kitchen Adventures had posted pictures and a recipe, so I gave it a whirl.

It’s fair to say the oat flatbreads were not an unalloyed success.  

Luckily, I took the time to document my progress in a series of gripping oat-based photos. 

As instructed, I’d soaked 150g porridge oats overnight in a combination of 60ml water and 30ml of whey (the liquid that dripped into the bottom of the jar when making yogurt cream cheese, described in my blog post on preparation here.).

I cranked up our ancient Magimix, which reduced the pretty dry mix into something close to flour.

Remarkable. Porridge oats reduced to flour.
The recipe mentioned adding water to make a sticky dough, but I bunged in too much all in one go (100ml), ended up with sloppy wallpaper paste remarkably unlike dough, added another 50g of oats, had another go with the Magimix and decided I’d just have to run with the end result.

So sticky I should patent it
Boy, was that stuff sticky. There was no question of rolling out a ball of dough onto a piece of greaseproof paper as I was having enough trouble getting it off my hands. I put a lump straight into a hot frying pan, and tried pressing it flat as far as possible without burning my fingers. 
Then kept poking it and checking it and wondering “how long should it take?” and “will it ever go brown?” until I finally thought that must be long enough and took it out anyway.

An oat-based failure in a frying plan. 
However, I discovered accidentally that if my hands were wet, the dough didn’t stick to them anywhere near as much. On my second attempt I successfully patted out a circle of dough onto the greaseproof paper, and then singularly failed to get it off the paper without squishing it all up again.

At least the second attempt looks much more like a flatbread
Solution: cut out the paper round the dough, upend it into the frying pan, and peel off the greaseproof paper after a few seconds, when the oat mix has started to cook a bit and it’s easier.

Always good to peel off the paper before eating

Although I abandoned the first attempt, the next two were fine, and tasted OK with the addition of cream cheese.

Demonstrable improvement in oat flatbread production
Which is lucky, because I have five more dough balls under cling film in the fridge, waiting until I feel brave enough and hungry enough to attempt cooking flatbreads again.

Guilt inducing future flatbreads

Paddington would approve.
SNACK – Toast and marmalade, 4p

When I was hungry mid-afternoon, I did consider trying marmalade on top of the first flatbread. 

Then I chickened out and just had a slice of toast with marmalade instead.

SNACK – Pineapple and yogurt, 10p

Later in the afternoon I finally cracked and opened the 27p tin of M Savers pineapple.

Only on Live Below the Line could I get excited that a tin advertised with 240g of pineapple inside actually contained 320g.

In fact only on Live Below the Line would I be weighing out the contents and comparing it to the official drained weight.

Anyway, result! Thanks Morrisons for an extra 80g of pineapple. A small helping on top of natural yogurt tasted great.

DINNER – Carrot, cumin and kidney bean burger with egg fried rice, 38p

Originally, I’d just planned on having egg fried rice for dinner. 

Then I realised I could snaffle 40g of the kidney beans destined for 2 days’ worth of chilli, grate up some of my single raw carrot, add a dash of cumin from the store cupboard and ta dah: an approximation of Jack Monroe’s Carrot, Cumin and Kidney Bean Burger.

The real recipe is here, and also in the “A Girl Called Jack” cookbook.

The real recipe also adds onion, flour, shedloads more kidney beans and fresh coriander. 

I cook them even when I’m not doing Live Below the Line, and they taste excellent with lettuce, tomato and mango chutney served in a wholemeal roll.

I didn’t have any of those extra ingredients, so I ate it with last night’s leftover rice fried up with boiled mixed frozen vegetables, a tiny bit of grated ginger, and an egg stirred through until it was cooked. It was fine.

I’m sure 150g of boiled veg is good for me, but it tasted a bit watery and really needed a glug of soy sauce to liven it up.


Total for 3 meals and 2 snacks today was 89p.

I was hungrier today than yesterday, and glad I’d shoehorned yogurt into the budget as an extra snack. My evening meal was reasonably filling, but the fried rice didn’t taste of much.

I’m glad I had a go at making oat flatbreads, as I love trying new recipes. I’m also well aware that my attempts at low cost living involved literally hundreds of pounds of appliances – a microwave for the porridge, a stick blender, the Magimix (however ancient), a fridge, a freezer, a hob, a toaster and kitchen scales, let alone the basic kitchen equipment like frying pans and graters.

I may have managed to feed myself for 89p today, with all this and more at my disposal, but it would be unthinkably harder for the 1.2 billion people worldwide living below the poverty line.

If you would like to support my artificial if well-intentioned efforts to feed myself on £1 a day for 5 days and donating to UNICEF's much more worthwhile work to keep children worldwide protected, fed and healthy, here's a link to my fundraising page:

Monday, 27 April 2015

Live Below the Line Day 1 - yogurt cheese tastic

I came down for breakfast this morning and switched the kettle on – only to remember I didn’t need boiling water.

No tea bags, so no cup of tea. Not even when value range teabags cost 20p for 40 from Sainsburys and Tesco. I preferred to buy food instead, and couldn’t afford enough milk to do tea as well as porridge.

So I started the first morning of Live Below the Line with a glass of tap water. At least my drinking water is disease free and comes straight from a tap.

Not enough banana for too much porridge

BREAKFAST – Porridge with banana, 13p

I ate porridge with banana for my breakfast, much as I normally would.

It was just made with more oats, less milk compared to water, and only half a banana, so I ended up labouring through the last of the bowl, reluctant to throw any away.

LUNCH – Carrot & ginger soup, slice of bread with cream cheese, 24p

Surprisingly tasty yogurt cream cheese & carrot soup
Again, I often eat soup with bread and cream cheese for lunch, but on Live Below the Line I’m restricted to a single small slice of bread rather than eating a couple, and I’d never normally attempt making cheese from yogurt.
I made a couple of portions of carrot soup by softening half an onion in a non-stick pan, before adding 250g of the frozen carrots from the bag of mixed veg, 700ml water, about a third of my tiny piece of ginger, and a couple of value chicken stock cubes to make sure it tasted of something. I zizzed up the whole lot with a hand blender and stashed the second portion in the fridge ready for later in the week.
The end result tasted good. The carrot soup was fine, even if the ginger was rather knocked out by the salty stock cubes. The cream cheese made from natural yogurt, salt and pepper was surprisingly nice.
I wandered around with a bit of a headache (caffeine withdrawal?) and attacked the garden instead.

SNACK – Toast and marmalade, 4p
Bitemark added for scale

Really glad I’d been able to nab a small seeded loaf from the bargain bin at the Co-op. The slices may be small but they taste better and should hopefully fill me up for longer than the limp value bread I’ve tried before.

Morrisons M Savers marmalade was a good, and a distinct improvement on value strawberry jam.

DINNER - Bean & sweetcorn chilli with rice and green beans, 42p

Veggie chilli, with added sweetcorn
Dinner decimated much of my Live Below the Line store cupboard, especially as it made two portions ready for another meal.  
I used the remaining half an onion from lunch time, the tin of kidney beans, tin of tomatoes, 50g of the frozen sweetcorn, a stock cube and a teaspoon of chilli power. At the last minute I decided to hold back 40g of the kidney beans and 80g of the tomato, in the hope of making soup or something later in the week. I may yet run out of Tupperware at this rate.
I cooked up 150g of rice, a double portion ready for fried rice tomorrow, with yet another stock cube added to the cooking water. I also boiled up 100g of the frozen green beans.
The end result tasted good, with a decent kick of chilli.

The first day went pretty well. I managed to make three meals and a snack for 83p, and it only got better after the overload of wallpaper paste porridge (maybe if I use more water tomorrow?).
The food actually tasted of something, thanks to the stock cubes and the chilli powder from the storecupboard.
I was never gnawingly hungry, although I did have to keep catching myself from picking at the children’s food. Hadn’t realised how often I’ll nab a carrot stick or piece of celery or couple of grapes while doling out meals.
However, I was all too aware I couldn't have any more - setting side half a banana, ekeing out the cans of kidney beans and tomatoes, holding back from another slice of bread.
Working from home, I had the time, equipment and inclination to do all the cooking required, which would make it an impossibility for many people genuinely living below the line.
For me, I can look back and say "one day down, four to go".
For 1.2 billion people worldwide, living on £1 a day continues day after day after day.

If you would like to support my artificial if well-intentioned efforts to feed myself on £1 a day for 5 days, please donate to UNICEF's much more worthwhile work to keep children worldwide protected, fed and healthy, via this link to my fundraising page:

Meal plan stretching £5 over 5 days on Live Below the Line

Much head scratching over prices and possible meals

With only £5 to spend on food, I wrote and re-wrote different meal ideas while juggling shopping lists. A lot of “if I swap this for this, I could make that – but oops I don’t have any of the other”.
Click here for a link to the post with the final shopping list.

But in the end the plan was pretty simple: fruit and porridge for breakfast, something with bread for lunch, something with rice for dinner, and marmalade on toast for a snack.

A restricted budget means restricted choice, and much more appreciation of the variety of food I’d normally eat.

When you can only afford to buy oats, bread and rice, you’ll end up eating them even if you’re bored and fed up and don’t want them, even if you’d rather eat potato or pasta or rolls or crumpets or whatever, because there is nothing else and otherwise you’d go hungry.  

I couldn’t stretch to meat either, but will be relying on kidney beans, eggs, yogurt, milk and a tiny piece of cheese for any protein. Even cut price chicken and strangely-named cooking bacon wouldn’t fit in this year’s budget.

So my £1 a day meal plan ended up like this:

Breakfast: Porridge made with milk and water, with half a banana
Lunch: Carrot & ginger soup, slice of bread with cream cheese
Dinner: Bean & sweetcorn chilli with rice and green beans

Breakfast: Porridge with the other half of a banana
Lunch: Pea soup, slice of bread with cream cheese
Dinner: Carrot, cumin & kidney bean burger with egg & ginger fried rice

Breakfast: Porridge with tinned pineapple
Lunch: Scrambled egg on toast with carrot sticks
Dinner: Pea & cheese risotto

Breakfast: Porridge with tinned pineapple (or marmalade, if I’m feeling really daring)
Lunch: Carrot & ginger soup, slice of bread with cream cheese
Dinner: Sweet & sour egg fried rice

Breakfast: Porridge with tinned pineapple
Lunch: Veggie omelette with slice of bread
Dinner: Bean & sweetcorn chilli with rice and carrots

Snacks: bread and marmalade every day, and yogurt with pineapple if I’m hungry and there’s enough left.
Drinks: tap water throughout, as I preferred to spend the 20p for value tea bags on food.

That's it. I might go crazy and have a go at oat-based flatbreads, but otherwise there's nothing else. 

And by the way, if you fancy supporting my efforts to feed myself on £1 a day for 5 days and donating to UNICEF's much more worthwhile work to keep children worldwide protected, fed and healthy, here's a link to my fundraising page:

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Live Below the Line Day 0 - Preparation

The Live Below the Line challenge drives participants to various degrees of insanity. Or maybe it's just me?

Pre-LBTL, I never expected to end up separating a bag of frozen veg, pouring milk into an ice cube tray, or wrestling yogurt with a muslin square.

But yet again I've risked frost-bitten fingers tips so I can eat green beans, sweetcorn, carrots and peas separately, rather than facing the same mix every time. Bonus points to Aldi for including an extra 30g of veg in the kilo bag.

Mixed veg. Better hope I like frozen carrots as there are certainly enough of them.

My tray of milk cubes was due to the lucky break of finding a pint of skimmed milk in the reduced section the day before starting the challenge. This meant milk for my porridge only cost 25p, rather than the 45p I'd budgeted. Rather than face sour milk by the fifth day, I decided to freeze the milk, so I could pop out a few cubes each evening to make porridge the following day.

The insanity of milk ice cubes

The 20p saved on milk also enabled me to switch the budget around, ditch some value baked beans, and buy a tub of natural yogurt for 45p instead.
Thanks to the recipe from Ceri at Natural Kitchen Adventures, I had a go at making cream cheese with part of the yogurt.
I added salt and pepper to 200g of the yogurt, twisted it up in the middle of a muslin square, used a rubber band to secure the top, and stuck a skewer through the elastic band so the yogurt could be suspended within a jar. If you leave it in the fridge overnight, the whey drips out of the bottom leaving 75g or so of surprisingly nice cream cheese behind.
Ta dah, the final product

Transforming yogurt into cream cheese

And by the way, if you fancy supporting my efforts to feed myself on £1 a day for 5 days and donating to UNICEF's much more worthwhile work to keep children worldwide protected, fed and healthy, here's a link to my fundraising page:

Saturday, 25 April 2015

£5 of Food and Tips on Shopping for Live Below the Line

£5 of food to last for 5 days. 

This year saw my budget for Live Below the Line slashed in half.

Previously, I've had the relative luxury of £10 to spend to feed two of us for five days.
This time round my husband is bowing out (new job), so it's down to £5 just for me.

The hardline approach means I've had to wave goodbye to tea bags, multiple meals from a cheap chicken, and the flour, yeast and baking spread that would have made bread, pastry, pancakes, fritters and yorkshire puddings. And scones. And possibly pasta. Sob.

The rules of the challenge insist on including the full price of packets or jars, unless you're part of a team. This means that I have to budget for an entire jar of marmalade, pack of oats and bag of rice, even though I'm well aware I won't polish off the whole lot in 5 days.

So, after much time comparing prices online, researching other blogs, stalking the reduced sections in my local supermarkets and frantic adding up, here's what I've bought:

500g porridge oats (Lidl) x 39p
Pint of fresh milk (reduced at the Co-op) x 25p
Small loaf (reduced at the Co-op) x 32p
Jar of marmalade (Morrisons) x 27p
Small banana (Morrisons) x 9p
Tin of pineapple (Morrisons) x 27p
1kg rice (Aldi) x 40p
1kg frozen mixed veg (Aldi) x 89p
400g tin kidney beans (Aldi) x 23p
6 eggs (reduced at Morrisons) x 65p
500g natural yogurt (Morrisons) x 45p
Tiny bit of Red Leicester cheese x 5p
400g tin tomatoes (reduced at Morrisons) x 29p
Onion (Morrisons) x 9p
Small carrot (Morrisons) x 5p
Tiny bit of ginger (Morrisons) x 3p
10 chicken stock cubes (Sainsburys) x 25p

Total: £4.97, leaving a few pence for salt, pepper and spices from the storecupboard.

For what it's worth, my top tips on shopping on a micro budget are:

1. Use the value ranges
I'd be stitched on Live Below the Line with the value ranges. They're vital for staples like rice, pasta, bread, jam, tinned tomatoes, tinned beans and tinned fruit when you only have a £1 a day to spend.
Whether it's Morrisons M Savers, Sainsbury's Basics, Tesco Everyday Value, Asda Smartprice, Aldi Everyday Essentials, it's worth scrabbling around on the bottom shelves in the supermarket.

2. Check prices before shopping
Even the value ranges vary between supermarkets, so it's worth comparing prices on . You can switch your basket of food around between Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury's, Morrisons and Aldi, but unfortunately there's no info for Lidl.

3. Make a list
When every penny counts, you're less likely to go hungry if you can plan your meals and write a shopping list. I did a lot of crossing out and rewriting before I ever left the house, and it helped avoid buying items that were cheap but wouldn't actually make a meal.

4. Add something to cheer you up
It's worth carving out something to provide a lift, even if it's only 20p to 30p on a jar of jam, a packet of biscuits or tea bags.
I focused on foods that would hopefully fill me up for longer - like oats, wholemeal bread, beans and eggs - rather than the crash and burn from white bread, white pasta and cornflakes.
After the truly nasty cheese slices last year, I also tried to avoid cheap processed food (e.g. value baked beans or curry sauce) in favour of food I knew I definitely liked and would fill me up (fruit, veg, natural yogurt).

5. Spice it up
Living on cheap bread / pasta / rice / oats can quickly descend into a mass of beige blandness when you don't have enough for salt, pepper and the occasional spices. I opted for cheap stock cubes (25p - 30p). Root ginger is one of the few decent flavours that can be bought really cheaply, as even a bulb of garlic or a single lemon can set you back 30p.

6. Track down the reduced sections
Finding yellow-stickered bargains in the reduced section, whether a dented tin of tomatoes, or short-dated eggs, milk and bread, definitely helped crowbar more onto my shopping list. Unfortunately it's only really possible to take advantage of food near it's sell by date if you're lucky enough to have a freezer and storage space.

7. Buy loose fruit and veg
Usually it's cheaper to buy fruit & veg loose, so it has to weighed, rather than small bags of fruit and shrink-wrapped veg. The only way I could afford any fresh fruit and veg was by buying an individual carrot, onion and banana, and searching for the smallest ones. Luckily my local Morrisons has a set of scales in the fruit and veg aisle, so I could check whether it might be too expensive before reaching the till.
One of the restrictions with a tiny budget is that you can't afford the bigger packs that are cheaper per item, like big sacks of potatoes and onions, and big bags of fruit. In general, keep an eye on the cost per kg and it's always worth checking out Aldi's Super 6 offers.

8. Don't be afraid to ask
I was resigned to a cheese-free diet, faced with a chiller cabinet full of enormous blocks of shrink-wrapped cheese. However the staff behind the deli counter at my local Morrisons were kind enough to cut a tiny bit of cheese to liven up one meal. I'm not sure I'd be brave enough to keep asking week after week though, yet another reason to be grateful that for me LBTL is only for a limited time.

9. Mix and match shops
I am more than aware of the ridiculousness of using 5 shops to spend as little as £5, let alone any issues about petrol costs/bus fares and the time taken. However, if you know particular items are cheaper in certain shops, and you can nip in when passing or stock up from time to time, your money will go further.
Discovering that the cheapest bag of porridge oats at Lidl was 39p, as opposed to 75p at Morrisons, makes a big difference when you only have £5 to spend.
 Morrisons and the Co-op dominate my LBTL shopping list because they're within walking distance of my home, whereas Lidl, Aldi and Sainsbury's are a bus ride away.
If I could only go to a single shop, I'd be caught between Morrisons and Aldi.

10. Cooking
The only way I could get anywhere near a something that tasted OK and was vaguely healthy was by cooking from scratch rather than relying on cheap ready meals. However, I am fortunate enough to have the time, experience and equipment to cook, and the money to pay the fuel bills, things denied to millions of other people worldwide.

I'm doing the Live Below the Line challenge from 26 to 30 April, feeding myself for £1 a day for 5 days, in an attempt to help combat global poverty and raise awareness of the billions of people who go hungry every day. 
For details of my efforts, or to provide moral support, check out the blog and Twitter and please consider sponsoring me for Unicef, the global poverty project,here.